Shure & Beyer Headset Mikes
Increasingly popular with singing drummers and keyboard players, headset mikes - once the exclusive province of sports commentators - offer major attractions for musicians who dislike traditional boom mike stands leaning across them. They also (with long enough leads or radio transmitters) give you the chance to leap around on stage while both hands are occupied playing; thus even guitarists and bass players are now starting to consider their potential.
Probably the most popular headset mike is Shure SM10, a dynamic 'mike only' type which sells for RRP £122.69. Although we tested the more expensive (RRP £148.51) 512 model (the extra cash provides you with a 'one side only' headphone), any conclusions drawn about the performance of the 512 applies equally well to any of the Shure headset mike variants (of which there are quite a few) because they all share an identical mike capsule.
A new challenger for Shure's supremacy in this field is West German firm Beyer Dynamic's RRP £162.55 HM10 (which can also be obtained with headphones - the full-size DT100s, which give a final combined selling price of around £230). IT recently completed exhaustive tests on both types.
When two such accomplished companies as Shure and Beyer approach the same problem, you might well expect them to arrive at a pretty similar answer. Not so in this case, as the Beyer HM10 works on a totally different principle to Shure's SM10/512. Whereas Shure have produced a tiny dynamic (moving coil, if you prefer) capsule, with a typical 'cardioid' (heart-shaped) pickup pattern, Beyer have taken a most unorthodox route and have returned to one of the most traditional mike types of all - a 'ribbon' type, with a figure-of-eight response. Without burdening you with the full technical scam on these two principles, some explanation is obviously called for here, especially for readers who aren't familiar with these two microphone operating systems. Put in a very simplistic way, dynamic mikes work very much like loudspeakers in reverse. Sound pressure (air pressure) vibrates a diaphragm, which in turn moves a coil of wire suspended between two magnets. This movement creates minute electrical charges, hence an electrical 'picture' of the received sound is produced, which your pre-amp eventually beefs-up. These days nearly all stage mikes are of this type, as they are particularly robust, give a good sound quality and are fairly inexpensive. Ribbon mikes, on the other hand, are almost unheard-of on stage - in fact Beyer are one of the few makers who still produce them. Just like the dynamic type, ribbon mikes operate on the electro-magnetic principle: in fact, the 'ribbon' used in the few remaining such types is really just about one piece of wire. Dispensing with the coil altogether, ribbon mikes use the 'ribbon' (a wire strip, usually) alone to move between the two magnetic poles. Generally, however, ribbon mikes are regarded as too bulky and far too fragile even for studio use (having been largely replaced by condensers and dynamics), so Beyer's choice of a ribbon design is particularly remarkable for a stage mike. Often regarded as to weak to withstand live use, too prone to 'blowing out' when subjected to high sound pressure levels, Beyer must have developed the ribbon principle to a new peak to enable it to be used in an application like this.
We tried both these headset mikes under typical stage conditions, looking in particular for the key factors which any potential user would be watching for - how well the mikes reproduced the human voice, and how much interference from monitors each picked up. Thus far, from a convenience and comfort point of view, there hadn't been much to choose between the two competitors. Sound and performance-wise, however, they were very different, as we soon found.
Starting with tonal reproduction, the Beyer's ribbon-type capsule produced a vastly smoother sound, infinitely better in the bass and lower-mid registers, and with an altogether 'rounder' and warmer sound. Most of our singer/testers really appreciated the excellent sound of this mike, although some degree of Eq alteration was almost always called for on the desk to give the sort of Rock upper-mid boost which most modern singers seem to like. Transient response, too, was superb on the Beyer, but we did note that (blast shield notwithstanding) it was much more susceptible to breathing noises and 'pop' effects than the Shure. This was a nuisance, as such effects are extremely hard to get rid of on the mixer, but - assuming that such breath noises weren't critical - there's no doubt that the Beyer produces an excellent, smooth sound, and one that (any reservations about ribbon mikes not standing high sound pressure levels aside) seemed to us to be more than up to the job of stage use, even for singers with a more than healthy lung capacity. The Shure, on the other hand, sounds totally different. Almost completely without the bass and mid response of the Beyer, it sounds alarmingly thin and reedy through an un-Eq'd system. On the other hand, the Shure's intelligibility is far higher than the Beyer's, and if you can Eq the Shure's sound to compensate for the missing lower mid and bass sound then you can easily get a similar sort of sound to their legendary SM57 dynamic - no kidding! This gives the Shure a Rock sound which is far more 'impactive' than the Beyer's. The trouble is, which would you prefer? We couldn't decide, because some of our test singers sounded better on the smoother Beyer, while others benefited from the Shure's immediacy and impact.
In terms of picking up the noise of a kit, monitors or backline amps, the Beyer once again surprised us. With a figure-of-eight response pattern (i.e., theoretically responding equally to a signal coming from either the front or the back of the mike), it wasn't only definitely more resistant to 'side fill' type monitors at a 90 degree angle than the Shure (as we expected), but - however we orientated it - was less prone to unwanted pickup altogether, even from 'wedge' front-of-stage monitors. We know that Beyer claim their design to be generally noise cancelling, but we were surprised by how good it was, even when subjected to very loud monitoring.
The cardioid response pattern of the Shure should (we expected) have rejected all noises better than the Beyer, but although it was very good in this respect, it did pick up both side-fill and other monitors more noticeably than did the Beyer. Neither unit presented any problems in this respect (tested from both feedback resistance and recording separation points of view), but, if one has to have absolute ratings, the Beyer did perform better in this respect.
We're not trying to be nice to both Beyer and Shure here (honestly!), but the choice is going to be a very personal one. Both headsets are well made and are extremely comfortable - not much to choose between them, in fact. The plus-cans Shure doesn't have the adjustment of the Beyer, but the minus-cans SM10 model matches it very well in this respect.
Soundwise, the Beyer and the Shure are like chalk and cheese. Where the Beyer's sound is warm, smooth and superbly faithful, the Shure (with suitable Eq on the mixer) is crisper, harder - maybe 'Rockier' in its sound. Which you'd prefer would very much depend on how you liked your voice to sound, and to buy either one without trying the other would be crazy. Moreover, where the Beyer suffers more from breathing noises, the Shure picks up extraneous sounds to a rather greater degree, so you'd have to take this factor into account when making a decision, too. If forced to make a choice, we'd say that a less hard-hitting vocalist who wanted a rounder, smoother sound would infinitely prefer the Beyer, whereas a diehard Rocker would almost certainly prefer the 'edge' of the Shure.
Because our main aim in this review was to compare the mike sections of each unit, we've largely ignored the cans provided with the Shure 512. For the record, however, this set offers a 'left ear only' monitor, and the sound reproduction wasn't too bad at all. Having said that, however, we wouldn't recommend monitor mike/cans for live work - in our view, Shure's SM10 and Beyer's M56 au naturel systems would be much better without additional complications.
A final note is that, despite subjecting the Beyer to a good, hard vocal belting, we couldn't manage to inflict any damage on it, so it looks like Beyer have perfected a ribbon mike system here that will take Rock vocal levels quite happily, and one that seems more than sturdy enough for the job.
Horses for courses? Yes, the Beyer and Shure systems are very different, and we're forced to make an each-way bet on them both. We can tell you that they're both excellent in their own way, and hopefully we've suggested which might suit what style of vocalist better - make a choice, however? No. That must be down to you, we're afraid!
Beyer HM10 Headset (mike only) RRP £162.55
Shure 512 Headset Mike (with cans) RRP £148.51
More info on Shure mikes from H.W. International Ltd., (Contact Details).
More on Beyer from Beyer Dynamic (U.K.) Ltd., (Contact Details).
Gear in this article:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!